Avatar photo

By Eric Naki

Political Editor

Motshekga correct in insisting schools stay open during Covid, say experts

'The minister would like to complete the year. I think she is right with her with her back-to-school call. If education is stopped, there will be bottlenecks in the system,' Duvenhage says.

Analysts have sided with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, saying she has a point in resisting unions’ call for schools to be closed in the light of Covid-19.

Motshekga is not backing down in either her back-to-school campaign or against the unions – SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (Naptosa) and National Teachers Union – pressuring her to close all schools until after the virus peak.

Instead, she flexed her muscles, warning should unions try to disrupt the schooling programme, she won’t hesitate to use law enforcement agencies against the perpetrators. Observers saw this as her opportunity to be seen to be wielding power over Sadtu in particular, which had been a “bully” with never-ending protest actions that often brought schooling to a halt. At least three analysts said Motshekga was right to insist schools should not close.

It would be unwise to sacrifice the academic year, they said.

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana from the University of Johannesburg said instead of fighting, the government and unions must cooperate to ensure that personal protective equipment was supplied to schools.

“Motshekga is quite correct, life has to go on, as long as the regulations are observed, including the wearing of masks, sanitisation and keeping a social distance,” Ndletyana said.

“There will be shortages, but we should get schools going while addressing these challenges.”

The analyst said a lot of damage would be done if the academic year was cancelled. There would be an unprecedented rise in juvenile delinquency, massive school failing and the education system would be clogged and unable to cope in future. “If pupils don’t go to school, there is going to be a retardation of intelligence development,” Ndletyana said.

Prof Lesiba Teffo from Unisa said it made sense for schools not to be closed because that would be costly as the academic year would be lost. It would be very difficult to cover the loss to pupils.

“If those who say schools must shut down want to defy the scientists’ view that we are going to live with Covid-19 for a long time, they must not come back later to say they are changing their minds because I doubt if they have processed the implications of their call,” Teffo said.

“I don’t think the Motshekga’s insistence that schools must not close is unreasonable.”

Prof Andre Duvenhage from North West University Potchefstroom campus said the feud between Motshekga and Sadtu was another factor. There may be a political agenda to destabilise education, he claimed. Motshekga has had several confrontations with Sadtu, an affiliate of trade union federation Cosatu.

“The minister would like to complete the year. I think she is right with her with her back-to-school call. If education is stopped, there will be bottlenecks in the system,” Duvenhage said.

“There is a need to balance education and issues of health. I think it will be better to open under certain conditions.” Sadtu’s “disruptive attitude” was highlighted by Ndletyana, who called the union a “spoilt brat”.

“Sadtu has always had a very disruptive attitude, instead of bringing solutions. The day the government stops paying them, they will be proactive in finding solutions instead of causing problems.”

This was echoed by Xolani Dube, a political analyst, who said Sadtu is to blame for the education crisis because it was part of the government, being in alliance with the ANC. Dube said if the unions had insisted on not being part of the ANC, it would be fighting from a strong position for their members.

– ericn@citizen.co.za

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.